Jobs Events Advertise

Pacific Islands Forum dances around Nauru tensions

Ben McKay -

An attempt by Pacific Islands Forum leaders to revisit a unity pact has sparked a walk-out by Nauru, showing tensions remain close to the surface at the pivotal regional body.

The Micronesian nation's delegation left a plenary session on Thursday (AEDT) to protest against a discussion over its preferred candidate for the position of Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) secretary general Baron Waqa.

PIF leaders downplayed the prospects of a fresh rift, but Nauru Prime Minister David Adeang was not seen among them when they travelled to the island of Aitutaki to continue talks.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he did not see Nauru depart the talks and rumoured splintering had been over-hyped.

"From what I've heard, emphasised by all the leaders who've spoken ... there's a great deal of unity," he said.

It remains to be seen whether Mr Adeang will join the other leaders later, or if his absence is a sign of greater troubles.

Leaders from the Pacific have gathered in Rarotonga this week for the annual PIF leaders' meeting.

The 18-nation grouping is a combustible forum given it represents nations as different as regional heavyweights Australia and New Zealand and micro-states such as Niue and Tuvalu.

The body is of huge importance to Australia, with Mr Albanese investing a mighty diplomatic effort into maintaining its place as the Pacific's primary decision-making group.

Australia pays the lion's share to fund its operations, while Foreign Minister Penny Wong has visited every PIF member since taking office to enhance ties.

This summit is missing leaders from four of the biggest six members: Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Zealand.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was given a handmade quilt at a welcome ceremony.

The centrepiece is the leaders' retreat, where one representative from each nation discusses the region's biggest issues behind closed doors in a day-long meeting.

This year, several issues have been added to the retreat agenda at the 11th hour.

One of those is the Suva Agreement, which caused Nauru's walk-out.

"The Suva Agreement has been raised for late inclusion," Niue Premier Dalton Tagelagi told AAP.

"It can be discussed privately on the retreat."

The Suva Agreement was a deal struck last year to keep Kiribati in the PIF after the Micronesian nation complained about a lack of power-sharing with its region.

Under the deal, the five members of Micronesia were allowed to choose the next PIF secretary-general and selected Baron Waqa.

The process and the choice have been highly controversial.

Mr Waqa, a former Nauru president, was deeply involved in Australia's asylum seeker processing centre in his nation and during his tenure, sacked the country's judiciary and led a crackdown on media.

Both he and Mr Adeang have been linked to an Australian Federal Police corruption probe into an Australian phosphate company operating in Nauru.

Critics say former Nauru president Baron Waqa is unfit for the secretary-general position.

Critics say Mr Waqa is unfit to lead PIF but members, including Australia and New Zealand, have backed Micronesia's decision, seeing it as crucial for unity.

"I'm not going to get into those issues," Mr Albanese said when asked about Mr Waqa's suitability for the job.

According to reports, Samoa's Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata'afa put the Suva Agreement on the agenda intending to speak about the process, rather than re-litigate the elements of the deal.

However, with Nauru offended, PIF leaders scrambled to correct the misunderstanding behind their walk-out.

"There was no suggestion that we would revisit that decision," NZ representative Carmel Sepuloni said.

"There is a suggestion we should talk about the process moving forward to make sure that we're on the same page."

Leaders will wake on Aitutaki to take part in the retreat before Mr Albanese heads home on Friday.

   Related   

New Tuvalu government reaffirms relationship with Taiwan
Tuvalu's new government has reaffirmed its relations with Taiwan after the election, Tuvalu's government says, adding it wants d...
Senate clash after Thorpe raises case of her cousin's death in custody
Labor senator Malarndirri McCarthy has accused independent Lidia Thorpe of making her feel "culturally unsafe" after insults wer...
Dominic Giannini 28 Feb 2024
Leading voices for Indigenous children present reform plan in Canberra
A delegation of Elders, senior leaders and representatives from Children’s Ground and Utyerre Apanpe (First Nations Educators Ne...
Giovanni Torre 27 Feb 2024
NSW government policy review recommends increased focus on First Nations and multicultural media outlets
New South Wales is home to almost 90 independent multicultural and Aboriginal publications and 210 radio programs, spoken in mor...
Brendan Foster 26 Feb 2024

   Ben McKay   

Mills without a home leading into Olympics after being waived by Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks have waived guard Patty Mills, signalling a possible end to the popular veteran’s NBA career. The Torres Stra...
Callan Morse 1 Mar 2024
Latrell ready to go global with no fears for thin pitch
The Trell-Mit brand is ready to go global with the superstar South Sydney fullback declaring the skinnier Las Vegas field will...
Scott Bailey 1 Mar 2024
Powell-Pepper ban sets harsher penalty precedent: Port
Port Adelaide won't appeal against Sam Powell-Pepper's four-game ban, with coach Ken Hinkley saying the AFL has sent a blunt war...
Steve Larkin 1 Mar 2024
Rolfe to wrap up evidence in Walker death inquest
An inquest into the death of an Indigenous teenager is set to wrap up after 18 months as evidence from the police officer who sh...
Neve Brissenden 1 Mar 2024